“Behind every sweet smile, there is a bitter sadness that no one can see and feel,” truthful words spoken by actor, poet, activist and one of the most influential artists of all time, Tupac Shakur. With over seventy-five million records sold worldwide and a successful acting career, the legendary lyricist and visionary rose to fame in the early 1990s. Much of his music has been noted for addressing social issues that plagued inner cities, and he is considered a symbol of activism against inequality.
Born Lesane Parish Crooks on June 16, 1971 in East Harlem, New York to mother Afeni Shakur (Alice Faye Williams) and father Billy Garland, Tupac was raised in a culture of activism. Both of his parents had been active members of the Black Panther Party in New York during the late 1960s until the mid 1970s. A month before Tupac’s birth, his mother was tried in New York City as part of the Panther 21 criminal trial. She was acquitted of over 150 charges.
At the age of one, he was renamed Tupac Amaru Shakur, after Túpac Amaru II, the descendant of the last Incan ruler. Tupac’s mother explained, “I wanted him to have the name of revolutionary, indigenous people in the world. I wanted him to know he was part of a world culture and not just from a neighborhood.”
In the 1980s, Tupac’s mother found it difficult to find work and she struggled with a drug addiction. In 1984, his family moved from New York City to Baltimore, Maryland. He attended the Baltimore School for the Arts where he studied acting, poetry and jazz. This is also where he befriended actress Jada Pinkett.
In 1988, at the age of 17, his family relocated to Marin City, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended Tamalpais High School, where he performed in several theater productions. During this time, he linked up with the popular Bay Area rap group Digital Underground, starting as a roadie and back-up dancer. In 1991, he featured in the popular hit Same Song, which was his recording debut.
Later he signed with Interscope Records by Tom Whalley (who currently oversees his estate today). On November 12, 1991, his first solo album 2Pacalypse Now was released. The single Brenda’s Got a Baby generated both acclaim and controversy. The albums overall commentary on contemporary social issues facing American society, such as racism, police brutality, poverty, street violence and teenage pregnancy led to a public condemnation by Vice President Dan Quayle. The album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America on April 19, 1995
In 1993, Tupac released his second studio album, Stricly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. became his first platinum release. “N.I.G.G.A.” in the title is an acronym meaning “Never Ignorant in Getting Goals Accomplished.” It debuted at number 24 on the US Billboard 200 and number four on the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, selling 38,000 units in its first week. The album spawned hits like Keep Ya Head Up and I Get Around and was certified platinum by RIAA.
In 1994, he collaborated with other artists such as Big Syke, The Rated R, Macadoshis and Mopreme Shakur,(Tupac’s stepbrother) to form a hiphop group Thug Life. On September 26, 1994, Thug Life: Volume 1 album was released. It received critical acclaim and has been regarded as one of Tupac’s most underrated record projects. The album features guest appearances by Y.N.V. and Nate Dogg and production by Warren G, Easy Mo Bee, Big Syke and Stretch. It sold 500,000 copies in the United States that same year.
Released on March 14, 1995, while Tupac was imprisoned, Me Against the World made an immediate impact on the charts, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 and holding that spot for four consecutive weeks. It was nominated for two Grammys. Dear Mama was released as the album’s first single in February 1995 and would be the album’s most successful single, topping the Hot Rap Singles chart, and peaking at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. While he was in prison, the album overtook Bruce Springsteen’s Greatest Hits as the best-selling album of the year in the United States at the time.
All Eyez on Me is the fourth studio album by Tupac and the last to be released during his lifetime. Released on February 13, 1996, by Death Row Records the album features guest appearances from Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Redman, Method Man, Nate Dogg, Kurupt, Daz Dillinger, E-40, K-Ci & JoJo, and the Outlawz, among others. It has been ranked as one of the best HipHop Albums of all time, which spawned five singles, including two Number One hits, California Love and How Do U Want It. At the height of his phenomenal success. It was certified Diamond by the RIAA in 2014, with shipments of over 5 million copies (each disc in the double album counted as a separate unit for certification).
In 1992, Tupac starred in the movie Juice, playing the magnetic character Bishop Roland. In 1993, Shakur starred alongside Janet Jackson in John Singleton’s romance film, Poetic Justice. Shakur played a gangster, the fictional Birdie, in the 1994 film Above the Rim. He also had roles in Bullet (1996), Gridlock’d (1997), and Gang Related (1997).
Before Tupac became a well known rapper or actor, he wrote poetry. “The world moves fast and it would rather pass u by / than 2 stop and c what makes you cry,” is one verse he wrote as a teenager that would eventually be published in the 2000 book, The Rose that Grew from Concrete.
No year in hip-hop history stuck out quite like 1996. It marked the height of the “alledged” East Coast–West Coast rivalry, the debut of several artists who would rule the next few decades, and the last moment before lines between “mainstream” and “underground” were fully drawned.
On September 13, 1996, at the age of 25, Tupac’s life ended tragetically when he was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. Tupac who was riding along with Suge Knight (CEO of Death Row Records) had stopped at a red light when a man emerged from another car and fired 13 shots, hitting Tupac in hand, pelvis and twice in the chest. His bodyguard was not in the car at the time of the shooting. Tupac was taken to University Medical Center of Southern Nevada, where he had succomb to his injuries and died. His mother and girlfriend, Kidada Jones, were both by his side during his final moments alive. To this day, his murder still remains unsolved.
Nearly two decades after his final album, appreciation of Tupac’s music and artistry has only increased. His story was told in an Academy Award-nominated documentary Tupac: Resurrection (2003). In 2009, The Library of Congress added Dear Mama to the National Recording Registry and the Vatican featured Changes on its official playlist. In 2017, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As of September 2017, the RIAA listed Tupac as the 44th top-selling artist of all time by album sales and streaming figures.
- The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996)
- R U Still Down? (1997)
- Greatest Hits (1998)
- Still I Rise (1999)
- Until the End of Time (2001)
- Better Dayz (2002)
- Loyal to the Game (2004)
- Pac’s Life (2006)
Awards & Honors:
|2002||Tupac was inducted into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame.|
|2004||Tupac was among the honorees at the first Hip Hop Honors.|
|2006||Close friend and classmate Jada Pinkett Smith donated $1 million to their high school alma mater, the Baltimore School for the Arts, and named the new theater in his honor. In 2021, Pinkett Smith honored Shakur’s 50th birthday by releasing a never before seen poem she had received from him|
|2009||The Vatican added “Changes”, a 1998 posthumous track, to its online playlist.|
|2010||On June 23, 2010, the Library of Congress added “Dear Mama” to the National Recording Registry, the third rap song.|
|2015||The Grammy Museum opened an exhibition dedicated to Shakur.|
|2017||Tupac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 7, 2017.|
|2002||The exhibition Tupac Shakur: Wake Me When I’m Free opened at The Canvas at L.A. Live in Los Angeles|
“I’m a reflection of the community.”
“I got a big mouth. I can’t help it. I talk from my heart. I’m real.”
“They have money for war but can’t feed the poor.”
“Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real.”
“Behind every sweet smile, there is a bitter sadness that no one can see and feel.”
“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside while still alive. Never surrender.”
“All I’m trying to do is survive and make good out of the dirty, nasty, unbelievable lifestyle that they gave me.”
“I don’t see myself being special; I just see myself having more responsibilities than the next man. People look to me to do things for them, to have answers.”
“I’m 23 years old. I might just be my mother’s child, but in all reality, I’m everybody’s child. Nobody raised me; I was raised in this society.”
“Let the Lord judge the criminals.”
“My mama always used to tell me, if you can’t find somethin’ to live for, you best find somethin’ to die for.”
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